Doug and I are meeting some old friends at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on Monday to toast Barack Obama’s historic inauguration and celebrate the end of the “W” era. I don’t think we’ll be doing much hiking this trip, merely exercising our champagne elbows.
We’ve been down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon twice, both times in winter, just about this time of year. The first time, in 1978 or 1979 I think, we waffled back and forth whether to splurge on a dinner at the El Tovar or a hotel room before hiking down. Dinner at the El Tovar won the toss, and we froze our butts in the back of the pickup later that night with pleasant dreams of a fantastic dinner.
The first stretch of the Kaibab trail, a series of S-curve switchbacks, was like a skating rink. It was January. Even though the trail was sufficiently wide, the drop-off was not forgiving. I perfected the 'baby-step' walk while pretending to be seriously interested in the striations of the rock wall. We had a reservation to pitch our tent at the Phantom Ranch Campground on the Colorado River, some 9 miles down, for a few nights. In the pickup in the parking lot, we brilliantly left a six-pack of cheap beer on ice for the return.
At the beginning of the hike, you could not have convinced me that walking downhill could be that difficult. But with each mile, my pack became a source of greater agitation and my hip flexors screamed louder and louder. I was glad that we had an extra day to rest at the bottom before we had to make the long haul out. One of the mule trains passed us on the way down, carrying what we called the “sissy” tourists. We cursed the foul stench the mules left in their wake as they pissed where they pleased. Or, was it the tourists?
The temperature at the top was well below zero, but with each mile down into the canyon it became balmier. We pitched our tent as we lost daylight and decided to wander around. We followed the sound of music to the Phantom Ranch house, a most inviting place in the bottom of The Canyon. We had been clueless to its existence. Inside, there was a guy singing and playing mediocre guitar, other hikers hanging out at tables exchanging stories, sipping beers. BEERS? They served beer down here? Suddenly we realized that we left our wallets locked in the car at the top of the canyon. We checked all our pockets and came up with $3.75. We checked the prices. A small plastic cup of beer was $.75. We were going to be here for two nights. You do the calculations. It didn’t look good. We each got a beer and quietly cried in it.
By the time we got back to our camp, it had started gently raining. Our tent was too small to keep our packs in it, so we slid them under the picnic table for cover. During the night it continued to rain, never too hard, but continuous. Also during the night, as was usual for me on a backpacking trip, I knew I began my period. I decided to wait until morning to retrieve a Tampax from my pack. There was always one sidepocket of my pack that was filled with a baggie of Tampax, just in case. It’s the first rule in the woman’s code of backpacking.
When I pulled my pack out in the morning, I discovered all the rain pooled under the picnic table. Unfortunately, I had set the pack Tampax side down, and apparently the baggie failed. When I pulled the baggie out of the pocket, it practically exploded. The Tampax had swollen up to the size of rolling pins. The outer cardboard covers boinged off like rubber bands being shot into outer space. There was no way these were going to work. I told Doug I would have to take some of the remaining money and go down to the Phantom Ranch and buy some Tampax. Oh, the look on his face said it all. But he quickly gave me the remaining money.
I came back from the Ranch dejected and handed the money back to Doug. They wouldn’t sell less than a full box, and I didn’t have enough money. He asked me what I was going to do. I wasn’t sure, but I’d think of something. Then the idea struck. I took out our little backpackpacking stove, lit it up, undid the cook kit and put the frying pan component on to heat up. Then, a few at a time, I started drying out the Tampax, constantly stirring them over a low flame so they wouldn’t burn. I kept the strings out of the way.
I was well along in my project when one of the Park Service backcountry rangers came up to our camp site to check our permit. He asked all the usual niceties “where are you from?”; “have you hiked here before?”; “what route did you take?”; but all the while, he was staring at the unusual concoction simmering away in the frying pan. He never asked about it, but he never took his eyes off of it. Perhaps he just wondered what sauce one served with Tampax. I can only imagine what he was thinking, and what story he told later that night to his buddies.
All I know is that the rest of our money was spent on beer, the pan-fried Tampax worked OK for the purpose intended, and life was good. The ice-cold beer in the cooler at the top was pure motivation every inch of the 9 mile grind going out. I won't be cooking any Tampax on this trip. But I will be looking forward to life getting better. The King is dead. Long live the King.